Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Building a Technical Presentation - Part 2

For Part 2 of my Building a Technical Presentation series, I'm going to cover getting all of the ideas for your presentation together and creating the slides. If you missed Part 1 of this series, click here.

Putting Thoughts Together

After coming up with the Subject of your presentation we covered in Part 1, hopefully you also had a bunch of ideas on what you want to cover in your presentation. I have used multiple different tools to capture all of these ideas in the past, including pen & paper, Notepad and Evernote. Lately, I have just started to put these ideas into PowerPoint directly since that is where they will end up for the presentation anyway. I'll just start to put all of the ideas down on a basic bullet list template in PowerPoint and maybe try to start organizing them into a rough outline of what I want the presentation to cover. Do worry too much at this stage to get everything in the correct order or even on slides that make sense, at this stage it's more about just getting all of your ideas down. Try not to edit this too much, even the things that you think are not going to be a great idea may help you come up with something else later on, so put it all down.

Creating the Slideshow

Now that you have most of the ideas together for your presentation (you will not have everything at this point as you will always come up with new items as you build/practice it) it's time to start making the slides that you will use for this presentation. There are some presentations that will not have many slides and others that you might end up with way too many. It is hard to strike that proper balance and only after presenting multiple times will you start to get a feel for your pace. My general rule of thumb is to not try and do more than 5 or 6 slides for a 45-60 minute presentation, when there is a demo involved. As I mentioned in Part 1 you should not push yourself into doing your first presentations with live demos, so the number of slides will be higher if you are presenting in a 45-60 minute slot. As a rule of thumb for myself I know that I will usually talk on each slide for an average of 5 minutes.

The easiest way to start building your slideshow is to start with the title slide. I like to keep it simple, just the title as you submitted the session in large text to make it very clear. Keep in mind that this will probably be the slide that you will pull up before you start your presentation, so you can add some graphics and animation to catch people's attention as you are waiting for the session time to begin and the attendees to take their seats. You should also put your name on this slide along with some basic info like your title and company that you work for (or get a company slide template that has the logo on it, then you can skip typing the company name on your intro slide).

For my presentations I tend to use the bulleted list format for most of my slides, if the material on the slide lends itself to a table, chart or graph I will do that as well. The biggest thing to keep in mind with the text that you put on slide is to not put every word you are going to say on it, use the text on the slide to be summary of what you are going to talk about. Some like to use pictures or other graphics and animations to "spice" up their presentations, but that is completely up to you and how you think the audience you are presenting this to will take that. I think that this is another thing that you will start to use more as you get more comfortable presenting and using the tool to build your slideshow in. Also keep in mind that the more this "spice" you add to the presentation is more of the time that they are not paying complete attention to you and maybe even what you are saying. Just keep the amount of text on these slides to a minimum as much as possible, you want them to be used for you and the audience to keep track of where you are in the presentation and to get the summary points for notes. You don't want to put so much text on them that the audience feels they need to read everything on the slide instead of listening to you.

Along with adding graphics and animations to your slideshow the next big debate is over manually advancing your slides or having them automatically timed. I have yet to do a presentation where I use automatically timed slides, but is becoming a more popular way to do presentations, especially when you have a lot to cover in a short time. Automatically timed slides as you can imagine require a lot of preparation ahead of time to make sure you are in sync with the slides. The big issue with this type of presentation is that you will need to let everyone know to hold questions for the end or have a way to pause it to take questions. Some presenters love doing it this way, as it helps them to keep on time and make sure that they cover everything. That last point is where I think this method goes wrong, I like to make my presentations dynamic and I know that I have never covered the material in my presentations the same way twice. Keeping the audience involved is important and by them not being able to ask questions will make it very hard for them to stay involved.

Dedicate the last couple of slides in your presentation to a quick summary slide, which allows you to go over all of the points you covered. Also put in a slide with your contact info, email, blog address, social networking details, etc. and make sure to mention if you are going to post your slides or extra material to your blog or other site and give them that address and when to look for it.

Now that you have your slides completed you should put the tool into presentation mode and click through each slide to make sure that everything flows well and that you don't have too much detail on the slides. Make sure to read through everything on the slides or even have a friend/family member go through them to make sure you didn't make any silly mistakes. At this time you may have too few or too many slides, which is fine we will get into fine tuning this in the next part of this series.